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Eastern Front

Assam riots: The fight is still on

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ARMED STRUGGLE: In recent years the Bodos have targeted the Adivasis (Santhals and other minority tribes) living in their area because they blame them for their own economic problems

Militarisation of various tribes in Assam has resulted in bloody conflicts in the state.

Ethnic conflicts in Assam have always been laced with a heavy dose of militancy. There is at least one militant outfit in every major tribal group in the state - Bodos, Karbis, Dimasas, Adivasis and Kukis, all of whom have been engaged in conflicts at one point or the other in the last 60 years.

The Muslims, the only non-tribal group affected in the ethnic conflagration, is so far not known to opted for this route. Though, Islamic fundamentalist groups have been present in the state, but, intelligence agencies say they have been in 'sleep mode' for long. Among the Muslim terror groups, the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) is the oldest. There is also the Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA).

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi says, "Feelings of alienation and deprivation coupled with aspirations for separate identity to protect their land and culture from invasion of non-tribal groups are the root causes of the ethnic flareups. " The struggle starts with more democratic ways, like mass agitations, which slowly but eventually fans the birth of a militant outfit within the tribe. The democratic process of demand subsequently takes a back seat as militancy takes over. Often, the militant and the democratic groups are found to join hands.

The Bodos living in the western part of the state have had the maximum number of clashes with members of other tribes, Adivasis and nontribes (Muslims). They first fought for the inclusion of Bodo as an official language in the late 70s. This was followed by a bloody battle for separate identity that carries on till today despite having an autonomous set-up guaranteed by the Sixth Schedule of Constitution of India. The movement for a separate identity, which was started democratically by All Bodo Students Union, was soon hijacked by militant outfits.

The first such outfit to come up was the National Democratic Front for Bodoland (NDFB) in 1988, which extended the demand to a sovereign country. The Bodo Volunteer Force, later renamed Bodo Liberation Tiger, came next and, again, pressed for the creation of a separate state.

It was way back in 1952 when the Bodos first clashed with Muslims to prevent the inclusion of Assam in East Pakistan. More than four decades later, in 1992, they again locked horns with Muslims in Kokrajhar. At the time Bodo militancy was at its peak and the confrontation resulted in the loss of 113 lives.

They again struck the Muslims in Udalguri in 2008 and 64 people lost their lives. The NDFB was found to have put its might behind the Bodo community during this conflict. "However, in this year's communal conflict involving the Bodos and Muslims we have not got any direct evidence of the involvement of Bodo militants. This could be a reason why the death toll of 56 has been relatively lower than that of earlier clashes in which the militants played an active role, " says a senior Assam police officer on condition of anonymity.

The Bodo Liberation Tiger was disbanded in 2002 while the NDFB, except for a small antitalk faction, is in ceasefire and holding talks with government. All India United Democratic Front leader, MP and perfume baron Badaaruddin Ajmal, however, believes that despite the peace process in place in Bodoland, people still have access to illegal arms, which have been used in the recent clash. "I have demanded that the Centre first seize all these illegal arms if it wants to contain the communal clash, " he says.

In recent years the Bodos have also unleashed their wrath at the Adivasis (Santhals and other minority tribes) living in their area because they blame them for their own economic problems. The Bodos violently clashed with the Adivasis in 1996 and 1998 which resulted in the death of 198 and 186 people, respectively. The violence was mainly fuelled by militants.

After two back-to-back clashes with the Bodos, the Adivasis, too, came up with their own militant outfits - The Adivasi Cobra Force, All Adivasi National Liberation Army and the Adivasi Peoples Army. This year the Koch-Rajbongshis formed Kamatapur Liberation Army which demands for the ST status and a separate state of Kamatapur for themselves. The Adivasis of Assam are fighting for a place in the scheduled tribes list of the country and, though, they have the support of their militant fighters they have not been involved in any ethnic clash.

In contrast, other tribes in Assam have not shied from resorting to the force of violence to meet their political demands. In 2004, the Dima Halam Daogah, an erstwhile extremist group, was involved in the Dimasa-Hmar conflict which resulted in a death toll of 57.

The DHD fought for the creation of a separate state of Dimaraji for Dimasa tribe living in areas of north Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam and parts of Dimapur district in Nagaland. In the same year 98 people lost their lives when Karbi militants of United Democratic Peace Solidarity and Karbi National Liberation Front fought with the Kukis in Karbi Anglong district. The toll crossed 100 the next year when the Dimasas clashed with the neighbouring Karbis in one the worst ethnic riots in Assam.

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